As a father of two girls ages 7 and 10, married to an amazing educator of over 20 years, I have a 360-degree perspective of the teaching and learning experience. As a matter of fact, my 4th grade daughter is my wife's student. It's a complete family affair. Most people I share that with have an initial reaction of concern. The most common questions are, "How is that working out for your daughter? Isn't that weird for her? Does she feel challenged?" All these have merit. What this arrangement has created for our family is that we tend to continue the teaching and learning timeline at home.
This doesn't necessarily mean that the constructs of the school day are extended into our dining table or living room. It becomes more about expanding the subject matter, questions, activities, content, or curriculum, taking them in a variety of directions. Whether it's using origami to communicate lessons in geometry and structure integrity, talking about how biomimicry (the study of emulating nature's time-tested patterns and strategies) helps us become better designers, or appreciating the history behind the lyrics in Lin Manuel-Miranda's Hamilton, all of it has served as an immersive voyage into context, relevance, and meaning for our kids. The result of this approach has typically ended in them taking back what we expanded on as a family to enrich their learning during the regular school day.
My kids are lucky. As parents, we are also fortunate that our lives allow us to expand on the academic careers of our children. As a teacher, my wife knows she has a champion that ensures that the hard work she puts into the classroom is not gone to waste. In many ways, my family IS the village that we so often talk about in education.
Many kids are not this lucky. Many parents are not this fortunate. Many teachers do not have someone further inspiring what they started.
In 2002, I was offered the opportunity to help start what would be a series of afterschool programs in the City of Los Angeles. Alongside an amazing group of change-makers, we launched the After-School All-Stars program in East and South Central Los Angeles. These neighborhoods sit in unincorporated areas of the city, meaning that they are under-resourced, under-represented, and had definitely fallen behind in a "No Child Left Behind" era. These neighborhoods had suffered years, and one dare say a generation, of low expectations and high rates of poverty and crime. Looking back, it was easy to see the skepticism school principals had when we first arrived on the scene. These particular schools had seen their share of "help" coming in, and just as quickly head out. Teachers and school leaders had very few champions they could lean on. Students had grown accustomed to adults promising more and delivering less. Kids here had few other adults in their lives, as their parents were busy helping their families survive in the literal sense! Parents in these communities felt the helplessness of not having the ability to talk about what their children were experiencing during school. Kids weren't that lucky. Parents were not that fortunate. Teachers had no champions.
A colleague of mine made a keen observation early in the lifecycle of our programs quoting that "two objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time". Basic law of physics. This same law existed on the blacktops of these two schools. Our job was to drive out the negative culture that was so prominent by being steadfast and committed to making a difference on these campuses. In doing so, we had the opportunity of changing the feel of the community. Think about that for a moment. For a program to enter neighborhoods such as these and set sights on transforming their aspirations and expectations was a tall order indeed, but it happened.
It started with engaging youth and their attitudes about what it means to learn. Standardized tests do not account for this. It continued with staff walking into an empty and run down school auditorium with the belief that they could fill the space with students and their families (something the school day had seldom seen). You had to be at this event for it to be "demonstrable". It was in moments that included a staff member having the vision of taking a handful of beat up acoustic guitars and grow the idea to become a nationally recognized rock music program. As programs grew from 3, 7, 10, 21, 34, and eventually 54 school sites, programs that our current White House administration claims as having no impact have resulted in students and school day leaders giving direct credit to programs like After-School All-Stars for their high school success, college entry AND graduation, with youth appreciating how we set them up for a lifetime of prosperity and giving back.
The stories are too many to keep up with. A young lady without a voice finding it in the All-Stars of Rock music program, building up her courage and vision all the way to a Yale Education. It was evident in a young man's memory of the program being the first place where he had a desk to do homework (home only offered the floor). That young man is now sitting at a school desk at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. Another is the story of a young lady who thought our site leader's idea of her picking up basketball was a joke. There's nothing funny about her full athletic scholarship to Cal Berkley where she was one of the stars of the Pac 12 division of schools, playing basketball for the Cal Bears. She can look at the basketball she now dribbles for the Atlanta Dream and laugh at the irony of it all. You can see it in a young man out of South Florida who's on a mission to become a police officer, finish college, get into law school, and then the White House. Looking back, he shares, "After-School All-Stars helped me deal with my anger. I started writing poetry and played football. So through afterschool, I was actually working with my anger constructively. I was a lot happier." Part of his White House journey has begun with him meeting the former First Lady Michelle Obama during a summer experience with After-School All-Stars.
As programs like ours continue, so do the stories. More and more of our alumni are coming back with narratives influenced by our program's ability to expand their learning. Fast-forward to the NOW, we are standing at the cross roads of a revolution in what it means to prepare a young person for the future. More and more businesses are asking our educational institutions to expand the definition of what it means to learn. Scour the web and you will find a collection of credible research and articles asking questions such as, "We're Graduating More Students Than Ever, but Are They Prepared for Life After High School?" (Slate.com/ Laura Moser – April 2016).
Google cites intangibles when considering future employees. They call it "Googleyness" and it includes attributes like enjoying fun (who doesn't), a certain dose of intellectual humility (it's hard to learn if you can't admit that you might be wrong), a strong measure of conscientiousness (we want owners, not employees), comfort with ambiguity (we don't know how our business will evolve, and navigating Google internally requires dealing with a lot of ambiguity), and evidence that you've taken some courageous or interesting paths in your life.
Enrichment programs that include coding, video game design, makerspace, and entrepreneurship all have elements of ambiguity and a high need for collaboration and problem solving strategies. All this requires an expansion of the teaching and learning norms that we're familiar with. The new economy is pushing for new ways to facilitate the success of our students. Innovation does not look at test scores, homework completion, and compliance. The future calls our young people to take risks in their learning, to go after things that others think as impossible or unlikely, and to think oneself as the solution to today's and tomorrow's challenges. It requires expanding the definition of success. This calls for a village of adults that youth can count on, champions that teachers can lean on, and people that serve as an extension of a parent's concern for the academic and social wellbeing of their children.
As a leader of a national non-profit committed to expanding the opportunities of youth across the country through afterschool programs, it is imperative that the current administration do the following:
I look back at After-School All-Stars and think about how lucky students have been in having the opportunity to expand their academic experiences. I think back at how fortunate parents have been to know they can provide for their families without worry for the safety and development of their children. I think of school teachers that look at afterschool practitioners as having their back, trusting that the learning continues after the school bell rings.
We all know it take a village. Does our leadership really believe that taking away the village is the answer? If so, then village needs to stand up and say, "not on my watch!"
For breakfast I had an omelette, fresh fruit, and an iced coffee!
Just recently, I started working for the juvenile justice system in the city government. Juvenile justice is a field of youth work that has always intrigued me with having done much academic research on it. At the same time, I knew that I would be opening myself up to experiences and situations that I would never have opened myself up to in any other field of youth work and not all of them were positive. I have seen youth exhibit behaviors and characteristics that I have never seen in any other young person I have worked with in the past. Just the other day, I was dealing with a situation with an irate 13-year-old boy who had to be physically restrained by one of my colleagues. When talking with staff after the situation, they said to me regarding the youth, "He's got a lot of stuff going on in his life right now. I mean, if you knew about his family situation, it would break your heart." This is not the first time I have heard a youth's situation described that way.
I am still trying to process all that I am seeing in this new environment. One of my first thoughts was that the juvenile justice system is not a prison - it is an orphanage for teenagers. It is a place where society sends all youth that it does not know what to do with. No, these youth may not be physically and legally orphaned, but many have been neglected and disregarded by their families of origin. If I didn't think the concept of family was important before I entered the juvenile justice system, I surely do now!
So where does youth programming and after-school programming fit in to all of this? In the Positive Youth Development model and philosophy, the first need of a young person that programs should address is safety and structure. Another that is just as important is belonging and membership. The youth I am encountering in the system have not been treated safely and in a structured way and what they are a part of now is not something they wish to be a part of. The first place a young person should encounter safety and structure is in the family. No child should ever have to fear for their lives because they have the support and protection of a loving family surrounding them. Whether we believe it or not, we all need a safety net. If we are privileged, then we encountered that safety net in our families.
One step beyond the family is where community comes into play - which is where after-school programming and youth programming should be integrated. I am sure all of us have examined and mulled over how our after-school programs are bringing about results and torn through evaluations, but have we ever stopped to think, how do our programs resemble a healthy family or community atmosphere? I used to do youth programming at a family homeless shelter and, without this being one of my goals, a youth put on his evaluation that "at Teen Night, we are all one big family." Is your program integrating the needs of safety and structure and belonging and membership into its strategic plan? Consistency plays a big part into this as well. Are you making it possible for your staff to stay for 3+ years with your youth? Don't get me wrong. I am not saying that in any way that the youth program should replace the actual family of a young person. I am saying that a program should be doing all it can to support and strengthen the family and community that a young person is coming from. I'm sure that if we are to think long and hard, we all identify ourselves partially by where we come from and where we feel we belong. As you set up for your programs this afternoon, let's give our young people a loving, nurturing place where they can belong.
My wife and most recently acquired a juicer and we have been juicing many of our breakfasts. Our most recent creation was a juice composed of apples, watermelon, carrots, and a little bit of ginger - delicious!
"I made a new friend today," a girl enthusiastically shared as she and her fifth grade peers cleaned up after making polymers. These girls come together once a week and work through science and engineering activities in an afterschool program hosted by Techbridge. We challenge them to work with students that they don't know and measure success when we see them supporting each other. It's a sign that afterschool programs are not only fostering and expanding opportunities for youth to learn, but building their confidence in a positive environment.
In America today, 1 in 4 youth — 15 million children — are alone and unsupervised after school. In our community—Oakland—afterschool programs served over 20,000 students in 2011-12--58% of youth. What about the 42% who are without support and supervision? Youth in afterschool programs demonstrate positive benefits including improvements in their school-day attendance rates, better social interaction with peers and adults, and increased safety during the hours of 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Each October, 1 million Americans and thousands of communities nationwide celebrate Lights On Afterschool to shine a light on the afterschool programs that keep kids safe, inspire them to learn, and help working families.
Programs like Techbridge are making a difference by providing a safe place for youth to make new discoveries, develop leadership skills, and explore new interests. Techbridge was launched in 2000 to inspire girls in science, technology, and engineering. In afterschool and summer programs, Techbridge girls design their own video games, program mobile apps that they can share with friends, and create biofuel solutions that power a light bulb. Through projects like these, the girls work with tools, troubleshoot, and develop confidence and perseverance that serve them well in their academic and career paths. They also learn to work in teams and develop public speaking skills. Techbridge serves 500 girls annually in afterschool programs in grades 5-12, primarily working in under-resourced communities. Evaluation results demonstrate the program's success: girls show increased confidence in technology, greater knowledge about careers in engineering, and stronger interest in careers in science, technology, and engineering.
Celebrate Lights On Afterschool with us Oct. 18, 2012. You can expand the benefits of afterschool programs and show your support in a number of ways:
As a parent, check out your school, community center, or local museum for an afterschool program for your child. Explore what programs are available in the community that you can help bring to your child's school. Make time to arrive early so that you can see what is going on afterschool at your child's program and meet the staff. Show your interest and ask your child about the projects he/she brings home.
As an engaged neighbor, make a call to your local school and find out what resources the afterschool programs need. Don't let the lack of materials prevent your neighborhood school from offering science and engineering activities after school.
Get involved and volunteer your time. Ask a school near work or home if you can lead an activity and serve as a role model. Better yet, organize a group of co-workers to volunteer with you and support afterschool programs. Role models often share how much more inspired they are after they volunteer with youth.
Help fund afterschool programs in your community. Not every family can afford enrichment opportunities after school. Resources we provide our children now will inspire them to give back to their community later.
Show your political support and vote for measures that fund afterschool programs. Let your local politicians know the value of these programs. Wouldn't it be great, if all children had a safe place to spend their time and develop new talents and interests after school?
Together we can keep the lights on in all our schools so that every girl and boy can participate in an afterschool program. America's got talent. Together we can inspire the next Top Engineer or Computer Scientist who just needs a little help from supportive adults and enriching experiences in an afterschool program.
Techbridge offers hands-on science and engineering opportunities for girls and partners with Bay Area school districts to encourage youth to experience science in a fun, informal way. Find out how you can create experiences to spark the engineer and scientist in youth in your community at www.techbridgegirls.org.
Find out more about Lights On Afterschool and ways to support afterschool programs at the Afterschool Alliance.